I have always had a great respect for Jason Isbell as a monster guitar player and great songwriter in an alt-country system. His latest solo effort Southeastern shows a man humbled, a songwriter putting it all on the table, and it’s absolutely remarkable. This record is a documentation of a man worn thin by the road he has traveled and where he is heading next, which undoubtedly is up and up.
The album opens up with the somber “Cover Me Up”, a story of a man beat down by his addictions and swearing it off for the last time. Jason’s voice soars above a soft acoustic guitar and slide weeping gently behind it. The song sets the tone for the album as a whole, both contextually and sonically. Isbell’s vocal has never sounded so strong and is a unique and incredible voice that remains unparalleled.
Whether or not the rest of the record is fully autobiographical, it doesn’t matter. Isbell plays and sings with such conviction that the songs take on their own life. The raucous, rocking “Super 8” again hints on a life of addiction and drinking toward a lifetime of drinking. The candid and blatant line “Don’t wanna die in a Super 8 Motel / Just because somebody’s evening didn’t go so well.” opening up the track. In a world where so many folks claim to draw inspiration from their current problems, the singer proves that he can pull the same from reflection and regret. Quite possibly the most prolific and heavy line in the record is from the track “Elephant”.
“If I’d fucked her before she got sick / I’d never hear the end of it
She don’t have the spirit for that now”
Proving the songwriter’s not afraid to write about touchy and emotion driven material. I am blown away by Isbell’s ability to pull a listener into a song and really feel as though they are a part of the story being laid before them.
Variety, depth and harmony all play a concrete roll in the sonic characteristics of the record. The prominent acoustic guitar and Isbell’s voice are the stars here though. Though fiddle, female harmonies (ala Isbell’s wife Amanda Shires), electric guitars, drums and keys all surround the songs and wrap them up nice and full for a dynamic sound throughout the record.
As a closing remark, I can only really say one thing. I am really, really happy that Jason Isbell made this record. It’s a work of beauty, honesty, and talent. The entire record shines from start to finish, there are no filler tracks here, every single one of the 12 tracks is a great song that stands on its own, but also adds a great deal to the collective work. I could honestly write a novel about how great this record is, but I will let you all go get it for yourself and make your own connections.